Thursday, March 15, 2007

Khmer Rouge - The rise and fall

In 1941 King Sihanouk inherited a throne without a Kingdom when his supposed territories pertained to the French who at that time also reigned supreme in neighbouring Vietnam and Laos. However World War II was in full swing with Japanese and Thai forces temporarily occupying the entire Indochina region. Of course unsurprisingly France had hoped at the war end to fully regain their former colonial lands only for their efforts to be thwarted by a successful 1953 “royal crusade” for Cambodian independence.

Hence with sovereignty now secured the politically active monarch then somehow saw fit to waste his time filmmaking rather than concentrate on the delicate affairs of his fledging nation. Nonetheless he did find the time in 1953 to dissolve parliament and declare martial law with political dissent strictly outlawed and a policy of repression implemented against the left. Meanwhile while conducting this purge of Cambodian socialists Sihanouk ironically nationalised rice and all other core industries. However such an ideological “pick´n´mix” did not go down well amongst the right wing factions or military for that matter. Unsurprisingly it would not be long before all classes were fed up with the royal incompetence, despotism and corruption.

As far as the Cambodian King was concerned the arch nemesis of his nation were North Vietnamese communists (Viet Cong). However unlike President Eisenhower who considered the enemy of his enemy to be his friend, this royal idiot equally disliked and mistrusted Thailand and South Vietnam, enemies of North Vietnam and hence staunch allies of the United States. This paranoia of threats to the security of the Cambodian nation grew to the extent that in 1965 Sihanouk broke off all diplomatic relations with the US and worse still, refused any further US aid that had accounted for much of the military budget. He meanwhile declared his country neutral in the neighbouring conflicts but secretly permitted the Viet Cong to use Cambodian territories in their battle against South Vietnam and the USA. As a result in 1969 the United States embarked on a 4-year secret B-52 bombing campaign of suspected Viet Cong bases inside of Cambodia that led to the death of at least 250,000 innocent civilians.

The national assembly finally voted to remove the God-King from Prime Ministerial office in 1970 with the tacit consent of the United States. However shortly after the ousted King formed a government-in-exile in Beijing and realigned himself with a “communist indigenous Cambodian revolutionary movement” which he nicknamed the Khmer Rouge. This militant group had been slowly gaining territory in the remote mountain regions and Sihanouk urged his followers to help overthrow the puppet government in power. Such score settling by Sihanouk certainly pushed Cambodia ever nearer civil war as thousands of enraged citizens who had lost family members in the air assaults signed up to fight for the Khmer Rouge and against the US. Sadly however many others who joined out of loyalty to their King had no notion of a man named Mao, nor had they ever heard of a Marxist movement. Many were simply fighting for the restoration of the monarchy. Royalists rather than communists.

The United States finally ceased their bombardment of Cambodia in 1973, four years after they had started. This time frame also coincided with the gradual withdrawal of ground forces from Vietnam and clearly suggests that Cambodia like neighbouring Laos was sacrificed in order to buy time for the Republic of Vietnam who now had to go it alone in their civil war against the North Vietnamese communists. The exit of the United States from the region also meant a suspension of aid to Cambodia, thus allowing the Khmer Rouge to make sweeping gains across the country against the greatly weakened government forces. Thus by the middle of 1973 the Khmer Rouge controlled almost two thirds of the country and half the population. It was now only a question of time and two years later the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh fell to communist control. A staggering 100,000 Cambodians had already died fighting in this civil war period between 1970 and 1975.

The man commonly perceived to have been the principle leader of the infamous Khmer Rouge is Pol Pot, also known as Blood Brother No.1 Born in 1925 he won a scholarship to study in Paris where he came into contact with communist Khmer students with whom he began to share their political thought. This ex-patriot Khmer congregation soon developed their unique brand of communism which began to take shape in their thesis and dissertations and often espoused the view that Cambodia had to become self reliant in order to end its economic dependency on the developed world. Unsurprisingly therefore many of this Paris group later returned home to take up key positions in the party apparatus. It is sadly ironic that this vibrant Paris movement was made up of students with classically middle class backgrounds and therefore moderately wealthy. Nevertheless these are the same people who later went on to ban education and execute those suspected of good schooling despite the fact that they themselves were not only the educated elite of Cambodia but also without doubt the most academically accomplished leaders in the whole of Asia. Indeed Pol Pot himself was a teacher of French literature at a private school.

In the years of the Khmer Rouge Cambodia became what was in essence nothing other than a “slave state”. Currency and religion were completely abolished while all hospitals, schools and factories were shut down. By the same token private property was confiscated and the country isolated from all foreign influence. The end objective was to create a new purified people, where emotions or family were to have no place in the newly named “Democratic Kampuchea”.In keeping with their Maoist notion that peasants were the true working classes, the Khmer Rouge implemented what has been termed, “Extreme Maoist Agrarianism”. They therefore attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing all urbanites into agricultural communes. This was despite the fact that Pol Pot and most Khmer Rouge leaders had no working class experience whatsoever. Even so they still felt qualified enough to idealise peasant life and justified enough to turn the entire nation into farmers. However due to an understandable lack of agricultural knowledge, especially amongst the former city dwellers, famine set in.

The Khmer Rouge deeply resented the arrogance and superiority complex of the Vietnamese communists. As a result a large part of the barbaric Cambodian communist model, that has no precedent, was due to the determination of the Khmer Rouge to establish a form distinct from the Vietnamese design. Furthermore the Cambodian communists disdain for the Vietnamese was amply displayed over the years both before and during their ascendancy to power through numerous cross border attacks. However after over ten years of provocation Vietnam finally all lost patience and declared all war on Cambodia on 25th December 1979. In the space of only 2 weeks Pol Pot’s men were forced to abandon Phnom Penh city after 3 years, 8 months and 21 days in power. They retreated north towards the Thai border and unofficially protected by Thailand who was more than happy to use the Khmer Rouge as a buffer between themselves and Vietnam, while also of course making money from the of channelling arms between China and the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile both the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge destroyed every rice crop in sight so that the other could not avail of the food. At the same time with the fall of the regime thousands of displaced Cambodians now abandoned their farm duties and went in desperate search of their loved ones, of whose whereabouts and fate they knew nothing. However this now meant that what rice escaped sabotage remained completely unharvested, thus leading to widespread famine.

Thousands of Cambodians citizens now fled to the Thai border where the UN sponsored an international relief effort. However spineless Thailand demanded that as a condition for allowing international humanitarian aid, food also had to be supplied to the Khmer Rouge.

Vietnam imposed a puppet government of their own but which was made up of ex Khmer Rouge leaders who had escaped Pol Pot’s internal party cleansing that took place over the previous two years. However I am most gob smacked at the idea that the Khmer Rouge, proven enslavers, torturers and murderers, were allowed to retain their seat on the United Nations Security Council. On that account the crimes of the KR were conveniently looked over to suit the world powers. The odd logic applied was that it was preferable to sit at the same table as the Khmer Rouge than it was to have to deal with Vietnam in their place. The resulting situation was that genocide criminals were now representing their victims in New York. Furthermore the United States opposed the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam to the extent of giving financial aid to any insurgent groups against the Vietnam appointed government. US money was therefore indirectly feeding and re-arming the Khmer Rouge.

Eventually a peace process was called and the United Nations confiscated weapons from villages who needed to defend themselves against the Khmer Rouge, thus leaving them vulnerable to attack and further killings by the KR, who used the peace process as legitimacy for their continued guerrilla activities. The continued activities of the KR resulted in 150,000 refugees by 1990.

UN administered elections were eventually held in 1993 with the party made up of the old Khmer Rouge losing the election, but threatening civil war if they were made to hand over power. Their threats succeeded and Hun Sen, a former minister of defence under Pol Pot and former Prime Minister of the Vietnam appointed Government was now leader of a supposedly democratic Cambodia. To this day he remains head of government.

Although Pol Pot died in Khmer Rouge custody in as recently as 1998, his true cause of death is remains unknown. Meanwhile his fellow founders of the Khmer Rouge doctrine, namely Ieng Seng (Brother no.3), Nuon Chea (Brother no. 2), Khieu Sampahn (Brother no. 5) and Ieng Thirit all live comfortably in private compounds under armed guards. Unsurprisingly the Khmer Rouge organisation was therefore not outlawed until 1994 and by early 1999, the movement came to an end. Today the nations wealthiest and most influential people belonged to the inner circles of the Khmer Rouge.

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